March 20, 2019It is evening. There is that restlessness that comes from being in my hot, confined apartment for too long. I figure that the night is ripe for exploring.
So I go downstairs and mount my trusty red scooter, then putter off. It's a good night for what I've decidedly dubbed a Moonlight Mystery Adventure. What goes on in the darkness beyond?
I turn onto the main street. The red brake lights of passing motorbikes reflect in a dull rosy sheen off the black asphalt. It's a smooth ride past the lit shops in the city of Danang.
The air brushing my skin is nice. Cruising around an Asian city on a scooter at night is quite different than attempting as much in the countryside where you are, dear readers. I've felt the sweet summer air during evening escapades beyond my hometown of Almont, but out here it just feels so… vibrant and alive. The tropical heat mixes with the city lights and the other motorbikes moving beneath the streetlamps. Children kick balls in the back alleys. Men and women drink around karaoke machines. The traffic keeps moving, moving…
And what am I? I'm just a traveler of sorts, a man who floats between worlds, between East and West, between light and dark. If you look hard enough, you just might spot me passing through.
Zoom! Past clusters of extinct machinery and piles of rusted steel. This is the industrial part of Danang, an area I've never traveled to before. I'm jockeying amid the cars and heavier traffic on this road. I turn left to cross the railroad tracks and then enter a neighborhood where trees line the street. As I keep driving, the people and buildings begin to thin out. Past the military base with its cheery-faced propaganda plastered on the front wall.
Out here on the fringes of the city, many new houses and apartment complexes are rising up. The night makes these freshly-made blocks in their various stages of development feel all the stranger: my wheels navigate between paved and crumbling streets as I stare at new residences surrounded by empty plots. The older, poorer houses and shacks of this area also lend to the offbeat environment. Two children shoot at each other with toy guns as I drive slowly across a particularly bad stretch of street that's practically dust.
It's funny, dust. It's scant to be found in the center of the city, but venture into the developing outskirts and it begins building up, collecting in the gutters on the sides of the street. In fact, the farther from the center you get, the more dust you find.
For all the dust, the debris, the ecological upheaval and the implanting of grids and order and ever-expanding modernity, development does have its own addictive atmosphere. It can be felt by the beach, where property prices are booming and hotels are going up left and right. Things are happening, cooking. Something is being born. It's an energy perhaps identical to certain periods of growth in American history. There's an optimistic sense of "What will happen next?"
Of course, this all goes silent at night. I drive by many a dark, half-finished building that sleeps until its crew resumes work the next morning. Dynamism in stasis.
Further and further I ride. I take a random turn and then, suddenly, I've passed into a patch of quiet fields and country-style homes, the rustic edge of this city. My headlight illuminates a few round, ghostly white tombs that bump up against the narrow path. Rural Vietnamese tradition dictates that you are buried within the land that sustains you. I trundle on through this otherworld.
I go by a little streetside fair with its simplistic rides and the children milling about with their parents.
In the daylight, despite my helmet covering everything except my eyes, children still gape and older people still smile when they spot the lanky foreigner driving past them. Darkness, however, lends that slight cover that makes me somewhat more invisible among all the other motorbikes slipping through the night.
I find myself on one lonely paved street that's bathed in intermittent islands of light as it makes its way out to an isolated patch of housing. I'm again surrounded by fields, as well as the looming silhouettes of mountains that mark the true boundary of the city. I have no idea where I am. A large rusty trailer sits off to the side. Construction supplies lie piled next to fresh houses with the lights on inside. A fire burns out behind one of them. Someone has made a little arch with Christmas lights over the dirt street to celebrate the new year that has now long passed.
A husband and wife sit in lawn chairs in front of their house, looking out at the dark field. As I drive slowly by them, they realize what I am and give a polite wave. And I politely wave back before I round the corner and continue on to whatever else the night will unveil for me.
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